3 Days in Washington DC: Cherry Blossom Festival Edition
Updated: Jul 1, 2019
Washington DC is a popular destination to visit in the spring and was the perfect destination for my husband and I to spend our paper anniversary. Keep reading for our tips and tricks for visiting DC during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. #DC #Spring #Cherryblossom #travelguide
We arrived in Washington DC in the late afternoon and settled in at our hotel, AKA White House. AKA White House is located just a couple of blocks away from the White House and is a convenient walking distance to many attractions. We like to hit the ground running so we were quickly out the door to start sightseeing the night we arrived.
Memorials & Moonlight Tour
After getting settled into our hotel, we walked over to the National Mall for the Memorials & Moonlight tour with Free Tours by Foot DC. The tour covered the Washington Monument (from afar), the World War II Memorial, the DC World War I Memorial, The MLK Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. These memorials look spectacular lit up at night and by going in the evening you get to skip some of the crowds. During the tour, our guide would share the history of the memorials and point out the meaning behind specific elements or features in each monument. This was very valuable as these details can be easily missed if you view them without a guide.
Fun fact: At the Lincoln Memorial they have the spot marked on the step where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I have a Dream" Speech. If you are ever at the Lincoln memorial and want to find this spot where one of the most iconic speeches in American history took place, look for the place where the stairs slightly change colors in the middle.
The Free Tours by Foot company was unique because you don’t have to pay anything when you sign up for a tour. You pay your tour guide whatever you feel is reasonable at the end of the tour. A tour with another company could have cost us up to over $100 just for 2 people. This was a much cheaper option and we still paid our tour guide well.
Late Night Dinner at The Hamilton
There are tons of great restaurants to eat at in DC. However, if you want to go to a popular restaurant at prime time, it's important that you make a reservation ahead of time or you might not be able to get in. Luckily for us, we were eating so late that we were able to squeeze into The Hamilton, which is an American restaurant with a contemporary dining atmosphere. I ordered the seafood pasta and my husband ordered a hamburger. Both were delicious!
The White House
You won't want to miss this iconic American home on your trip to DC. We passed by it almost every day walking to and from our hotel, but it was especially fun to see it lit up at night. Most visitors only see the outside as tours of the inside are very limited. To procure tickets to tour the White House, you must contact your Member of Congress (or embassy if you do not reside in the US). Your representative's office will coordinate with the White House to get you on a scheduled tour. If you are one of the few who get in on a tour, the White House will contact you about 2 weeks beforehand to collect some personal information regarding identification. The time period for requesting tickets is listed as anywhere from 3 months to 21 days in advance. We requested a tour through our congresswoman about a month in advance and were not given tickets. When I talked with one of the staff at our representative's office, she suggested requesting tickets up to 3-6 months in advance, especially if you are visiting during peak season, which we were.
The Museum of American History and Museum Natural History
There are so many amazing museums in DC and you probably wont get to see all of them. The trick is to choose the ones that you are most interested in and limit yourself to 2 a day. Any more than 2 will be too overwhelming. We chose to see the Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History and spent most of the daytime checking out the various exhibits at each.
The Museum of American History is home to some iconic exhibits such as the Star Spangled Banner. You know, the giant flag from the war of 1812 in which the words to our national anthem were written about. My favorite exhibit was the First Ladies exhibit. They have dresses, mostly inauguration gowns, from every first lady as well as the china they picked out while they were in the White House.
My favorite exhibit at the Museum of Natural History was the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals which featured the famous Hope Diamond - a 45.5-carat blue diamond donated by Harry Winston.
Food tip: There are not a ton of food options on the National Mall. When touring museums and other attractions, you will be limited to food carts and cafeterias. We ate a the cafeteria in the American History Museum. The food was okay, but don't expect anything gourmet.
The Cherry Blossoms
Nothing signals the arrival of spring like the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is an annual 3 week event around late March/early April. This is the time of year where the famous cherry blossoms gifted to the US from the city of Tokyo in 1912 are in bloom. The best spot for admiring these beautiful blooms is around the Tidal Basin, where they are predominantly located.
The Cherry Blossom Festival features several events during it's 3 week span including signature events such as the Opening Ceremony, National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, Petalpalooza, Blossom Bash, and the Blossom Kite Festival. We arrived on the day of the Blossom Kite Festival and still saw a few participants with their kites around the National Mall.
The cherry blossoms are considered to be in full bloom when about 70% of the trees are in bloom. We visited a few days before the blossoms reached peak bloom. The blossoms appeared to be more white than pink. The blossoms tend to be more pink in April.
It's important to note that cherry blossoms are very temperamental and their blooms can be ruined easily by the weather. Cold, rainy, or windy weather can shorten the bloom time and a late freeze or frost can cause them to not bloom at all. The blooms tend to last for about 4-5 days depending on weather conditions.
Also, the cherry blossoms attract very large crowds so expect to encounter many people. If you are wanting to get an Instagram worthy picture with the cherry blossoms, I recommend going around 7 am before the crowds emerge because it will be difficult to get a gorgeous picture without random strangers in the background.
You can also get some fun shots of the blooms in the evening.
Anniversary Dinner at Le Diplomate
We made dinner reservations for our anniversary at a French restaurant called Le Diplomate. The food here was absolutely delicious. My husband Josh had Duck a l’Orange. I had the Sunday special, Poulet Feuillete, chicken velouté, truffle, puff pastry. For dessert we split an apple Tarte Tatin and I had an espresso. I recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a place to eat in DC.
Library of Congress Tour
I'm a big history buff and I could not resist the chance to visit the Library of Congress. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful building in DC. There are actually several buildings that make up the Library of Congress, but the most famous one is the Jefferson building. Guided tours of the Jefferson Building take place every hour starting at 10:30 and ending at 3:30 on Monday through Friday. The last tour on Saturdays takes place at 2:30 and there are no tours on Sunday. All tours are first come, first serve so it's best to arrive 30 minutes early to secure a spot. We arrived late and the tour was already full, but the guides were kind enough to let us join in anyways. On the tour, the guides point out the importance and meaning behind the design and decor of the Jefferson building and the guides walk you to some of the most important artifacts on display.
The Library of Congress is home to many famous historical artifacts including 1 of the only 3 perfect condition Gutenberg Bibles in the world. In the Library of Congress tour, the guides also make sure to show guests the first map where the American continent is given the name America. This map was a gift from Germany with the intention that it always be displayed. The Jefferson building is also home to Thomas Jefferson's personal library in which he donated to congress after the original congressional library was burned down in the War of 1812. There are just a few of the many amazing items in the Library's possession.
The tour concludes with a viewing of the Jefferson reading room.
U.S. Capital Tour
Next was a tour of the U.S. Capital. There is an underground tunnel connecting the Capital Building to the Library of Congress. We used the tunnel to save some time and get over to the Capital Building more quickly. U.S. Capital tours run very frequently and it is very easy to schedule a tour. You can easily schedule a tour time online or even walk in and schedule a tour time in person at the visitor center. We got our tour scheduled through our representative's office, but I don't feel like this is necessary unless you are already requesting other tickets through your representative. I was very excited to tour the US Capital but was surprised that they only show 3 rooms on the tour - the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall.
The Rotunda is an impressive feat and definitely worth a visit.
Visiting the Senate and House Galleries requires separate Gallery passes that you will have to obtain through your senator's office or representative's office. A Gallery pass will allow you to watch either legislative body while in session. When not in session, Gallery passes will allow you to view the Gallery from 9 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.
The Supreme Court
While tours of the Supreme Court are available, we did not have time to take a tour. Instead, we simply walked through the building to view the court room and exited. As a big SCOTUS junkie, it was important to me to at least see the room where so many famous cases were argued. It definitely took me back to all of those constitutional law classes I took in undergrad.
For our final evening in DC, we saw the play "Into the Woods" at Ford's Theatre - the very theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated. We sat in the front row right under the presidential balcony. It was the closest I felt to history the entire trip and a little eerie. While this is a functioning theatre, there is a museum located downstairs that follows the presidency of Abraham Lincoln including his assassination. When arriving at the theatre, they had us walk through the museum before we could be seated for the show. The show itself was wonderful and the music was fun.
Our last day technically took place 30 minutes outside of DC. There are so many historical sites in the area that you don't have to feel limited to the city. We decided to go visit Mount Vernon, the home of the first President, George Washington. Tickets for tours can easily be purchased online. When we arrived, they were repainting the house, which is interesting because the house is made out of wood, but painted to look like stone by adding sand to the paint. In addition to the mansion, you also have access to his slave quarters, grounds, gardens, and tomb as well as a museum and visitor center.
Fun Fact: George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures are on display at his home in Mount Vernon and they are made out of bone and ivory with springs in the back. They do not look comfortable.
What are your favorite things to see in Washington DC? Let me know down in the comments.